Archive of ‘Support’ category

Animal-Assisted Interventions with Rio

For many of us, being greeted by your pet after a long day at work is a highlight of our day. Our stresses and worries can float away a little easier when there is an easily excitable animal waiting for us behind the front door. Our pets have the magical capability of helping us forget about all the bad stuff. It’s not surprising that many of us refer to our pets as our “babies”!

As an animal-assisted therapist, I am lucky enough to bring my “baby” with me to work at Austin Family Counseling. Rio, my border collie, is the friendly therapy dog you may have seen around the office. He is usually wearing a bandana and will greet you with a kiss or a full downward-dog bow. He spends his days with me, working with children, tweens, teens, and their parents. With lots of pets and belly rubs throughout the day, it’s safe to say he has a pretty sweet gig.

Rio and myself are certified in animal-assisted counseling and completed our trainings at the Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy at Texas State University (Eat ‘em up, Cats!). Throughout our training, we experienced how powerful and therapeutic the human-animal bond can be.

In my previous blog post, I shared about animal-assisted counseling and how is can be therapeutically beneficial for clients. For this post, I want to share some animal-assisted interventions that I incorporate into sessions with my clients.

Highs and Lows with Rio:

To check in with my clients at the beginning of session, we start with our highs and lows. A “high” is the best thing that happened to you that day. A “low” is something we wish went a little differently. My client shares, I share, and we often speculate about what Rio might share if he could speak. Sometimes clients guess that Rio’s low is that it’s raining outside, that he’s feeling sleepy, or he only got to eat 2 treats instead of the client’s proposed 50. More often than not, my clients theorize that Rio’s high is spending time with them in session (and they’re not wrong!) 🙂

What Would Rio Do?:

I adapted this intervention from a fellow animal-assisted therapist, Wanda Montemayor. Wanda and her therapy dog Chango work with middle schoolers in Austin. Sometimes it is easier for kids to imagine what someone else might do in a situation instead of guessing what they themselves might do. You may have experienced this when your kiddo effortlessly recalls what their sibling did wrong, but find no fault in their own behavior! Not surprisingly, kids are very aware of what a dog might look like when they are scared, angry, or tired. Sometimes, it is more difficult to know our own physical reactions to stimuli that make us scared, angry, or tired. My clients know that if Rio were to ever huddle in a corner, wimper, or hide under his blanket during a thunderstorm, he would be feeling frightened. By guessing how Rio might react to relatable situations, clients are able to verbalize what their own emotional and physical reactions could be.

Emoji Balls:

Dr. Elizabeth Hartwig, the director of the Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy, knew that Rio would be a good fit for this intervention because of his energy levels, intelligence, and eagerness to please. I have about a dozen stress balls with different emotions depicted on them. While Rio and I wait outside of the office, my client will hide the emoji balls throughout the room. When the balls are in place, my client invites us back in. Because Rio is very motivated by anything that can be thrown and retrieved, all my client has to do is ask, “Rio, where’s your ball?”. Rio will then tirelessly search the room for each emoji ball. As he finds each one, he will bring it back to us. My client and I each share a time in which we felt the emotion that is shown on the stress ball. These emotions range from scared, angry, calm, loved, sad, and more. We often like to guess a time when Rio felt that emotion, too. This is an active intervention for all participants, and definitely a favorite of my kids.

I hope this sneak peak into animal-assisted counseling gives you a little more insight into the therapeutic work canine counselors are capable of. If you have any questions for myself (or for Rio), don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected] or (512) 893-7396.
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To learn more about Rio’s certification and training, check out Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy!

Morgan Rupe, LPC-Intern
Written by: Morgan Rupe, LPC-Intern under the supervision of Kirby Schroeder, LPS-S, LMFT-S
Follow Rio on Instagram at @animalassistedtherapist
Check out the work Morgan & Rio are doing at http://AnimalAssistedTherapist.com

4 Tips for First-Time Parents

I love my children. I really love them. I love them more than almost everything*…including but not limited to: binge watching television, dark chocolate, and uninterrupted sleep. However, I would not be a First-Time-Parent again for anything. The first few days (weeks, months) of parenthood were so overwhelmingly difficult and new for me, that I would rather never visit those dark days again (even if it means a free Beyoncé concert for myself and my best friends).**

* The one thing that I love more than my children is… MYSELF!

** Totally kidding, I would 100% be a First-Time-Parent for a free, personal Beyoncé concert! And, just in case Beyoncé is reading this and wants to schedule my concert, I have compiled a list of 4 tips for making First-Time-Parenthood a little bit better.  

  1. LOVE YOURSELF FIRST. Love yourself by cutting yourself slack; remembering that your hormones are on a very terrible rollercoaster ride; and that this time period is short (and sweet) and will be over SOON! Every waking (and sleeping) moment is about taking care of your sweet new baby, but you cannot nourish your baby without nourishing yourself. Love yourself first.
  2. Implement a No-Google-Rule. Try, try, try your hardest to NOT Google every single fear, concern, thought, or wonder that pops into your mind. You have an OBGYN and a Pediatrician. Call them! Your healthcare providers most always have a nurses’ line. Call it. Ask them. They know a lot. But, you know a lot too. Trust your gut!
  3. Increase your text message data plan. If there was ever a time for a “squad”, it’s now. Text the people in your life that you trust, admire, and make you laugh. Tell them about what’s going on in your new world. They will be so excited to receive a text from you! And, most importantly, if you have friends that are also experiencing First-Time-Parenthood, lean, learn, and love on each other.
  4. Every morning when you “wake up”, make a to-do list and write the following three things down: Brush my teeth, Take a shower, Feed & change my baby. This list is all that matters. These three things will not always go as planned, but on the days they do, celebrate!

I hope these four tips bring a smile to your face. And, remind you to take it one day at a time. You are everything your baby needs and you are perfect!


Written by: Sumati Morris, LPC


Talking about Suicide: Truths and Tips for Prevention

Suicide has been much-discussed in 2017, between the controversy of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why and the trial and conviction of Michelle Carter, who encouraged her boyfriend to kill himself.  Despite the frequent conversation in the public media, there’s still a lot that many of us don’t understand about this topic.  

An important first step toward preventing a public health issue like suicide is knowing that there are many misconceptions about it. Look at these statements below, and see if you’re able to discern fact from fiction:

1. People who want to commit suicide are crazy or mentally ill.

Answer: False. People who are considering suicide are certainly experiencing distress and pain, but these are not necessarily signs of mental illness.

2. If someone wants to die, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Answer: False. Acute risk is usually time-limited. If you can help the person survive the immediate crisis, you will have gone a long way toward promoting a positive outcome.

3. Even kids can contemplate death by suicide.

Answer: True. Even young children can become severely unhappy and talk of wanting to die. 

4. If I ask someone whether he or she is thinking about suicide, it might “push” the person to do it.

Answer:  False. Asking someone if they feel suicidal does not plant thoughts anymore than asking them how their head feels might give them a headache. Most people feel relieved when someone asks about their feelings and intentions. 

5. There are almost always warning signs before a person dies by suicide.

Answer: True. Most people communicate their intent before attempting suicide, though these clues may be nonverbal and indirect. 

6. People who talk about suicide are only trying to get attention. They won’t actually do it.

Answer: False. Sometimes, people who are considering suicide may appear ambivalent about the decision because they are torn between wanting to live and wanting to die. This does not mean that they’re not serious, or just saying for it attention. ALWAYS believe someone who is contemplating suicide.  

The next step toward prevention is understanding how to helpfully respond to a person who is considering suicide. Even the most compassionate among us can feel terrified by the thought of having this conversation, and that is understandable. However, it’s important to be able to temporarily set aside your own feelings of fear, shock, and concern, so that you can calmly and rationally aid the person to safety.

Here are some things you can say or do to provide support for a person who is thinking about ending his or her life:

  • Be Direct. 

    Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide and your concerns for the person’s well-being. At times, people may “joke” about not wanting to live, because it feels like the safest and most comfortable way for them to communicate their pain. Ask them straight-up if they’re thinking about hurting themselves, and take their answer seriously.

  • Be Willing to Listen.

     Allow the person to talk about their feelings and problems at their own pace. Give them your full attention. Take a deep breath, and try to stay calm and collected. 

  • Be Non-Judgmental.

    Validate the person’s feelings and show understanding and support. Don’t minimize their problems with phrases like, “that’s not worth killing yourself for.” And please, don’t attempt to debate with them about whether suicide is right or wrong, or lecture them about the sanctity of life.

  • Be Hopeful.

    Remind the person that alternatives and support are available, but don’t promise that any one idea will turn things around for them right away. 

  • Be Involved. 

    If you believe the person is in immediate danger, please take them to the nearest emergency room, or call 911. Once the urgent crisis has passed, encourage the person to continue self-care, turn to supportive loved ones, and seek further help by finding a mental health professional in the area. Don’t just suggest it – ensure that they do it. Check in on them frequently.

  • Be Kind to Yourself.

    Once you’ve ensured the person’s safety, let yourself feel everything you set aside earlier. It’s understandable to feel sad and scared, to be frustrated, or to cry. Turn to your own sources of support, be they loved ones or professionals. Do things that bring you some comfort.

For more information or support, you can contact the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or visit the National Suicide Prevention website. Both resources are appropriate for those looking to help either themselves or someone else.

By: Amanda Robinson, LPC, RPT


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